The fourth anniversary of the war in Iraq and the fall of Baghdad passed with little mention of the growing human “displacement crisis” in the region. Nowhere in the world are refugee numbers growing at a faster rate.
The United Nations estimates 100,000 people are fleeing the country every month. About two million Iraqi refugees are now sheltering in neighbouring countries, the majority having fled since the downfall of Saddam. Iraq is haemorrhaging refugees.
Displacement inside the country is occurring on an equally horrific scale as the civil war forces people to flee from their homes: 727,000 Iraqis are thought to have been displaced within the country since February 2006 when the Samarra Shrine was bombed leading to a massive outbreak of sectarian violence.
The diverse character of the refugees and displaced people reflects the all-against-all nature of the war and deepening divisions in the country. Sunni are being expelled from Shia areas as Shia are expelled from Sunni dominated regions. Christians and Mandeans are increasingly under threat of attack. Kurds are accepting some of the displaced people moving north to escape the violence, even as they persecute and push out Arab-Iraqis who Saddam encouraged to move to Kurdistan. The Sudanese, Palestinian and Somali minorities who once found some protection in Iraq are no longer welcome.
Many of those who have made it out of the country are wealthy and skilled professionals, the very sort of people necessary for a successful post-war reconstruction.
Syria and Jordan, where 90 per cent of Iraqi refugees reside, have generally maintained an “open door policy” in the name of Pan Arabism. But the sheer number of bodies crossing the borders means that their hospitality is wearing thin. Neither of these two countries has signed the 1951 Refugee Convention prohibiting returning or refouling refugees to their countries of origin where this places them in grave danger. Iraqi refugees live in constant fear of deportation.
The United Nations and Non-Government Organisations have been hampered by a lack of political and financial support from the Iraqi and US administrations, both of which are reluctant to declare a state of emergency in the country.
As a consequence, very little international money has been dedicated to providing immediate assistance to refugees and displaced people. The office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) which has primary responsibility for the displaced people in the Kurdish and southern regions of the country operates with a pitiful budget of $US 8-9 million.
One frustrated UNHCR official recently asserted that $US150 million would not be enough to provide for the basic needs of those in flight.
Assisting Iraqi refugees and displaced people is critical for more than just humanitarian reasons. A recent report from the Brookings Institution refers to Iraqi refugees as potential “carriers of conflict” and points to the danger of the war spilling over to engulf the region.
It is common for displaced people to seek revenge against the leaders and regimes that forced them away from their homes. Those who have been “warehoused” for years and even generations without any prospect of resettlement or return can become refugee warriors and even terrorists. In the absence of hope, refugee camps are sites for festering hatreds and the perpetuation of violence.
To acknowledge this grim reality is not to suggest that Iraq is doomed to collapse and should be abandoned. On the contrary, the desperate situation of the displaced people in the region offers an opportunity for the coalition of the willing and other concerned nations to make the most of a bad situation.
Discuss in our Forums
See what other readers are saying about this article!
Click here to read & post comments.
8 posts so far.